Children First is an initiative that has been effective since 1st January 2018 in the Gloucestershire area. The aim is to divert young people from the criminal justice system. The objectives are early intervention, practical and effective partnership working, information sharing and the progressive replacement of criminalising sanctions with restorative practice approaches in child offender cases. It is recognised that very often child offenders are themselves vulnerable young people where traditional criminalising sanctions have proved ineffective and inappropriate.
Before this initiative decisions to offer youth cautions or criminal charges were largely dealt with by the police. There is now a joint decision making panel consisting of police sergeants, youth support team managers and an NHS mental health representative. They will have access to information from across the various organisations to make informed decisions. The hope is to dispose of most cases through a Youth Restorative Intervention although the panel will be able to recommend youth cautions and/or charging where appropriate. The YRI will not attract a criminal record.
The scheme has been operating in Surrey for some time and the benefits there have included speedy resolutions with minimal bureaucracy. Offenders have to take responsibility for the harm done and victims feel involved and satisfied with the outcome. There has been a lower offending rate and lower overall cost to the public purse.
In Gloucestershire since its inception 63% of first time offenders have been offered YRI and there has been a huge reduction in the cases coming to court. The Youth Support Team are delighted with the results to date.